I think my employee has an alcohol/drug issue….

Sadly, this is a situation that as HR professionals, we are used to seeing and supporting managers and business owners with. It’s never an easy situation for the business or for the individual. Unfortunately, by the time that you find out that an employee has an issue, there have usually been issues in relation to absence or performance that have created some tensions, leaving a tense and difficult situation to manage.

There may be ‘one off’ situations and on those occasions your current policies should suffice in relation to handling those instances. Of course, if you feel that they don’t, please let us know and we can help you to re-fresh / re-write them. It may be that, depending on the situation a disciplinary process will be necessary (for example when part of their role includes driving responsibilities or working with machinery, therefore putting others at risk).
However, in on-going or sufficiently serious situations, there is no set process as such for managing the situation as each individual is different. Not everyone accepts help or support and unfortunately, not every situation results in a great outcome for all involved.

This blog is not intended as a process to follow, but it should give you some things to consider if you find yourself having to manage this situation. As always, if you need support please call us and we can guide you through the labyrinth!

What you have to ensure…

As a business you have obligations under various legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Essentially, you have a duty to ensure that all employees are safe at work and that employees aren’t storing or distributing drugs from your workplace.

Asides from the above, which sounds quite simple (it may not be depending on the type of business you are though!) did you know that under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 you can be prosecuted if you knowingly allow employees to work under the influence of drugs or drink and therefore place other employees and themselves at risk?

In those one-off situations, such as an employee who arrives at work with a distinct aroma around them, you do have a right as an employer to send them home if you don’t feel that they are fit to work. However, if you do this, consider whether they should be driving home. Could someone take them home to ensure that they don’t drive and that they and other road users are safe?

Take statements from those that witnessed the event and take some advice on next steps in relation to disciplinary etc. Some employers are nervous about sending employees home, our advice is, don’t be! Consider the implications for the rest of your employees and the business. Are there safety concerns? If you allow them to remain at work, what message are you sending to everyone else?

Don’t ignore issues…

As I said above, the likelihood is that you have concerns because an employee is consistently late, has too much absence or their performance isn’t where it should be. Depending on how closely you work with the individual you may have noticed that their moods change a lot or other employees may have reported concerns to you.
Our advice is always to discuss the issue with the employee. No, I don’t mean walk into a room and ask them directly about drink and drugs, but in line with your policy, invite them to a return to work meeting (Absence Policy), or an informal meeting (Disciplinary or Capability Policy):

  • Arrange a private place to discuss absence/performance/lateness or whichever situation you have
  • Inform them of what has been noticed or reported
  • Ask if there is any underlying reason for the pattern of lateness/absence or performance issue that they would like to discuss with you
  • Do they need any support from you or are they receiving support i.e. GP?
  • Ensure that you reassure them that if there is a need for support that you will get some advice and come back to them about how you can help.

The hope is that they are forthcoming with information within the meeting.  However, don’t be surprised if they aren’t – they are also likely to be finding the situation difficult.

What next?

Our advice is to get some support. Depending on the information that you gathered in the meeting you may be looking at either a disciplinary or capability process. The likelihood is that, due to the nature of the issue, you may need support from an Occupational Health assessor.

Neither process will be swift and depending on the employee and how open they are to receiving support, they may not be smooth either. There will be difficult conversations involved and some tough decisions to be made on both sides. However, the key to these situations is remembering that dependency is an illness and can sometimes be linked to, or result in, mental health issues. Taking time to empathise with the employees’ situation can be key to assisting them, whilst ensuring that you safeguard other employees and the business.

As always, if you need our help with this or any other HR advice then do call us on 01536 215240.

About the Author: Charlotte Batchelor

Charlotte Batchelor
Charlotte is one of Gateway HR & Training's HR Consultants. She holds a CIPD Level 5 Diploma in Human Resource Management and the amazing ability to lower clients’ stress levels over the phone in less time than it takes to make a cuppa. Charlotte is very creative and is an incredible artist and photographer.